On Paris, Today

Posted on Monday, November 16, 2015

On Friday morning, I arrived at school on time feeling very proud of myself. I'd left my apartment spotless: swept the floors, watered the plants, wiped the bathtub, made the bed. I had bought a single branch of lilies last week whose scent I'd been enjoying all week, and I changed their water. They're kept in an empty wine botle, a bottle of bubbly from the Loire Valley, and I remember turning the bottle just so, so that the label faced outward before I closed the door behind me on Friday morning.
Suitcase in hand, I stepped into the car of the métro train, getting very intimate very quickly with the passengers already aboard. I closed my eyes and repeated "only four stops, only four stops, only four stops" as the sweat trickled down my neck and my feet got stepped on.
Arriving at school, I made a coffee in the stained Starbucks mug I keep in our classroom, and sat down for class. When it was over, I rushed to the train station, jumped on two trains, a plane, and a bus, and arrived in my aunt's town just outside of Dublin at around seven thirty that night.
I walked into the bar where my family was having a before-dinner drink, and they shrieked. They thought I was arriving at midnight, and here I was much earlier. My cousin Meron, the one I'd really come to see, in town from Dubai for a few days only, threw her arms around my legs and grinned up at me, leaving spitty kisses on my knees.
I had a pint of Guinness, marveled at how cool and smooth it tasted, held Meron on my knee and thought my heart would burst. I was so happy to see them, my three aunts, my two uncles, my two cousins, my sister.
We went home, we had more wine, we had snacks, we had more wine, we sat to the table. I don't remember where I saw it first.
I started getting messages that I couldn't understand, people asking me if I was alright. "Never been better!", I thought to myself, having another sip of wine. What was happening?
One of my closest friends, my neighbor growing up, messaged me. I read quickly, I saw "explosion" and "shooting" and "crazy" and I left the room, my sister seeing my face and following me. I sat on my aunt's stairs, tried to search the news. Six dead, it said. Six dead.
I got a message, "the shooting was in our restaurant," it said. A close girlfriend and I had gone to dinner at Le Petit Cambodge several months ago, sitting on the metal stools and burning our mouths on spring rolls and spicy broth. I remember that night so well, sitting in the glass-fronted restaurant, trendy lightbulbs hanging over our heads in the new très Brooklyn style. Gunmen, AK-47s, a bloodbath. Where I'd sat.
I went back to my aunt's table and ate with my family, replied to messages that I was fine, turned on the news, realized how bad it was. Six dead, around twenty, more than fifty, over one hundred dead. The Bataclan, so close to my weekend haunts. Streets I've walked down so many times, laughing and drinking, kissing, holding hands. Sidewalk terrasses where I've lingered with friends, crosswalks I've crossed a hundred times, people I've seen in the street, people who are like me, people my age.
As it all began to sank in, I began making phonecalls, replying to texts, sending texts. I "checked in" as alive on Facebook: the wonders of technology.
The next morning, the figures came out, the images appeared, the smartphone-shot videos. A man limping down the street, stepping over bodies. 
I turned off the news.
Saturday and Sunday were a blur, trying to make the most of our time together, dodging "how do you feel?" questions, trying to hold a squirming three-year-old as close as she'd let me. I knew I needed to be with my family, to let them love me, to push the images from my mind and focus on my own right-now reality, otherwise I'd fall apart. And so I did. I laughed, I gave piggy-backs, I drank champagne, I went for walks, I chatted. I tried to fill myself with positive things and good moments, to fight the horrors.
Last night I climbed into the AerLingus plane, heading back to Paris. As we landed, I cried. I watched the lights below, and felt my heart break again and again and again.
Everything is so quiet, here. The streets are quiet, people are quiet. My commute this morning took twice as long, because of an abandoned bag at a métro station. In the bus and in the train, people looked at each other, but everyone's eyes seem a little emptier. The heaviness is palpable.
I work at Disneyland. Our motto is "Faire rêver, c'est un métier!", making dreams come true is our job. Today and tomorrow, the park is closed. I can see Sleeping Beauty's castle from the meeting room, but I know it's deserted. Usually, I spend my days translating light-hearted articles about goings-on at the Park, about employees that have gone beyond their call of duty, about new princess events and chances for children to meet Mickey Mouse. Today, I typed "Horrific attacks... Senseless violence... National mourning...". 
The coworker who sits across from me usually flirts all day, wastes no opportunity to crack a joke because he loves to see us smile, he says. He's a broad-shouldered guy whose ringtone is Muse and who calls his wife several times a day. This morning, he hasn't smiled once. We had a minute of silence at noon, we gathered quietly in the meeting room. While the VP acknowledged that several people had lost close friends or families, we all studied the ground. During the minute of silence, I prayed I wouldn't cry - I cried afterwards, in the bathroom, instead.
As much as solidarity abounds today, and will in the days to come, grief is so personal. We stand together, but at the end of the day we go home, and reality hits. Last night I tossed and turned, my dreams woke me, I lay in cold sweats jumping at every sound from the street below.
For me, living in Paris is a lifelong dream. I remember when I began falling in love with the city, as a teenager, with its sights and smells, its people and its culture. Now, in my fourth year as a resident in this city, the dreams of my younger years are shifting. We can't afford to be romantic all the time, these days. The strangers in the street aren't all flâneurs and bohemians. Today, everything is tinged with fear.
The murderers that infiltrated the city of my dreams on Friday night were attacking our joy, our love, our youth. They went to areas where young people mill around, smoking cigarettes on street corners outside bars, meeting outside métro stations and greeting each other with kisses. Deranged men with machine guns went into the Bataclan, shooting blindly into a crowd of people brought together by the love of music. They killed so many people, letting their blood seep into the ground that had seen wonderful memories.
I'm scared, today. I was scared last night falling asleep, alone. When my neighbors moved in the stairwell I felt myself tense, wondering if it really was my neighbors. What's stopping someone from sneaking into my building? What's stopping someone from opening fire in the train I take every day? What's stopping someone bringing a bomb to the place that I work? People always say that letting yourself feel fear is letting the terrorists win, but I can't help it.
How can we reconcile these thoughts, these terrors, with the fact that everyday life must go on? I don't know the answer. I don't know how to remember the reality of last week, the happy coworkers and the wide-eyed crowds visiting Paris, in light of today's silent office and empty streets. The greyness of the Parisian winter is setting in, but this year it's heavier than ever. We thought we were scared in January, when Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were murdered in cold blood. I don't think I knew what fear was back then, though. Today, the attack is broader. The attack is on the ideals that this country is founded on, on freedom and equality and brotherhood. I don't know how to sort out these senseless murders. I don't know how to keep going on like nothing has happened.
I moved to Paris because I loved the way life is lived over here. Paris is my city, the place I feel most alive. My heart swells when I walk its streets, ride its buses, run in its parks. I don't have the words to describe how much I love this place - all my attempts are here on this blog, years' worth of entries all trying to find the right way to write my love letter to this city. My relationship with Paris is so personal, so intimate. I have learned so much about myself over the years I've spent here, I've fallen in love and healed broken hearts, I've made new friends and welcomed old ones. Today, though, all I can feel is the city's grief, as real as though it were a close friend's. I can see around every corner, in the face of every passer-by, I can see that I'm not the only one mourning the loss of something.
When I left my apartment on Friday morning, the world was in order. I was happy and free, looking forward to my carefree weekend. Over one hundred people were looking forward to their weekends, too. They didn't get to see the end of theirs.
When I came home last night, everything had shifted. I opened the door, smelled the lilies, but saw they had drooped over the weekend. My belongings hadn't moved, nothing concrete had happened to me personally, my friends are all safe, but something had shifted. I think the only thing to do now is try to get my feet back on the shifted ground. Try to love, and to laugh, try to live. I just don't think it's going to be very easy, for a long time. I'm thankful to have wonderful people in my life, but this is my own mourning. This is my own grief, that I have to carry myself. I have to work through what this attack has meant to me, and I have to see how I can begin to rebuild the tiny corner of my universe that has crumbled. I am so happy to be alive, I feel so lucky that I will see my friends again, I'll fall in love again, I'll live to see another Friday night. I can't forget how many people won't, though.

I'm sure that one day, things will seem normal again. Today, though, is not that day.   xx

/ edit: I picked up some roses on my way home and stopped by the Place de la République to pay my respects. The mood was heavy but the candles and flowers and pictures were beautiful. The crowd started singing the national anthem at one point... a song that's usually so triumphant and joyful, this rendition sounded so disheartened and downtrodden. Click here for video.



dublinhousewife.com said...

Horrific weekend. Glad you are safe. xxx

Sinéad said...